NORTH KINGSTOWN/EXETER – Leading up to the General Election on Nov. 3, the North Kingstown Standard Times will be featuring a Question and Answer series with North Kingstown and Exeter candidates for town council and school committee. This week’s question, for North Kingstown and Exeter Town Council candidates, is:
In your view, what are the most pressing issues affecting North Kingstown or Exeter that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, how will you address these issues?
The following answers from North Kingstown Town Council candidates appear below in alphabetical order. Candidates were asked to keep their responses to 175 words or less. In the interest of fairness, any responses that exceeded 175 words were edited down to meet the limit.
KATHERINE ANDERSON (D): In North Kingstown, there are two key areas most significantly impacted by COVID-19. The first is our local economy. The Town Council can drive efforts to expand North Kingstown’s commercial tax base, especially in Quonset and the Post Road corridor. The 2019 Town Council workshop on Post Road development yielded critical recommendations. The current Council has made progress, but there is more work to do. Promoting redevelopment will help us not only recover our economic losses, but also grow and expand our economy into the future. Second, COVID presented new challenges for our school system. During the shutdown, we learned just how robustly our schools promote not just education, but also health, safety, wellness, and connectivity for students and families. We have an opportunity to operationalize our gratitude for our educators by ensuring schools have the resources they need. The Town Council must adequately fund our schools to help ensure they can be flexible, adaptive, and responsive to our current challenges.
Anderson is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown Town Council.
BRAD ARTERY (D): The primary issue is how to safely, yet effectively educate our children in this new COVID-19 world. Various NK schools have collaboratively come up with approved plans, and continue to tweak those plans day in and day out. If elected, I will keep education at the top of my agenda. This means working with the schools to ensure they have appropriate funding and resources to effectively and safely educate our youth. Outside of education, I believe (and have observed) NK and our residents are following the governor’s guidelines on re-opening RI. We all must continue to do our part. If elected, I’ll ensure we understand and align with the state guidelines. I’d also welcome NK business owner feedback and ideas on what is/is not working, that the Town Council can communicate to RI leadership.
Artery is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown Town Council.
MARY BRIMER (R): Making sure the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community are met is my top concern. Isolation and the disruption/suspension of community services is having significant negative impacts on our residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Now more than ever, it is imperative that our Council is working with our State Representatives and Senators to ensure that North Kingstown is treated equitably with respect to Federal Emergency Aid and that our State Aid for Education is not discriminately reduced. I will continue to advocate for the responsible spending on Needs over Wants; and to consider the financing of “Wants” on a case by case basis.
While prioritizing the needs of our most vulnerable population, I cannot overlook the fact that the majority of our residents want pre-COVID services back for our schools, bussing, senior and recreational services, etc. Tensions are running extremely high in our community. I will be advocating for the rights of our residents who feel we have had enough government intrusion into nearly every aspect of our personal, business and government lives.
Brimer is an incumbent on the North Kingstown Town Council seeking reelection.
JACK KLIEVER (D): COVID-19 has already taken the lives of 51 members of our community. We are in a lull now, but there is good reason to believe we may have another outbreak. The most important thing the Town can do is encourage our residents and Town employees to follow guidelines about masks, social distancing and sanitizing. Secondly, we must provide our children with the best education we can under the circumstances. As the situation changes, and new information becomes available, educators, parents and students will have to be creative and innovative. It is up to the rest of us, including the Town Council, to give them as much support and flexibility as possible. Thirdly, we must tackle the problems created for our local businesses. Businesses must be provided with reasonable relief from rules and regulations while we work on long term plans to promote and grow our local economy. Once Trump is out of office, I would expect the Federal Government will take the normal steps to promote recovery from the recession, including grants to local governments.
Kliever is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown Town Council.
KEVIN MALONEY (I): The most pressing COVID-19 issues are the widespread economic turmoil and social problems inflicting households across the town. Jobs have been affected, many families struggling; some just getting by. Social isolation has also created significant stress as we all just want to return to normal. While the Governor and State offer financial aid and determine the safety guidelines and rules we are all required to adhere to; it leaves little latitude for the town and council. The town council has done a great job with executive orders; working with restaurants and local businesses to keep them open, reinstating many of the recreation programs as safely as possible and providing the funding to open the schools while allowing choice between both in person and distance learning. While other council members were seeking allocations of emergency school funding applied over four quarters; I want to make sure the funding is available when it’s needed. When the time comes (hopefully first of year), I will be pushing for the town to take proactive measures in hosting vaccine distribution clinics.
Maloney is an incumbent on the North Kingstown Town Council seeking reelection.
GREG MANCINI (D): The most pressing issues affecting our community by COVID-19 are protecting the health of our elderly, our most vulnerable citizens, providing a safe learning environment for our children and teachers; and, doing all of this with as little impact as possible to our economy. If elected, I will continue to follow the science as well as the recommendations of health professionals to ensure all the foregoing. This includes following their recommendations for re-opening our senior center; ensuring our most vulnerable citizens are adequately protected; and ensuring our first responders are not only properly equipped so that they too are properly protected. I will aggressively advocate for any resources to assist our community. I also will continue to assist that the time be as flexible as possible in accommodating the needs of local businesses so that they will be able to operate as best as possible. Lastly, I will do my best to ensure that our school system receives the resources it needs to allow our students and teachers work in a safe learning environment.
Mancini is an incumbent of the North Kingstown Town Council seeking reelection.
KERRY MCKAY (R):
- Clearly and rapidly identify the most at risk population in our town. Make sure they have adequate resources to deal with future events like the current COVID: Food, Doctors, Mobility needs, Companionship.
- Make sure communication is clear and concise within all town departments so policies are followed accurately.
- Make sure educational needs for our students, teachers, staff and parents are well understood by all parties.
- Understand what our financial needs will be and where the funding is coming from. Our Town is in a very good financial condition, events like these could devastate our ability to cope with future events like COVID.
- Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, understanding the chain of command and what type of power you will hand over to whom, when and how long will those executive actions be in force. Fortunately for North Kingstown we presently have outstanding leadership and staff at all levels of our own government. Our current response to COVID has been a model for the rest of the state. Kudos to Ralph Mollis and his staff.
McKay is an incumbent on the North Kingstown Town Council seeking reelection.
KIMBERLY ANN PAGE (D): The pressing issues brought on by the pandemic are jobs and education.These issues are integrated with many families because parents can’t get back to full-time work if their children are at home. We need to fully fund education so we can provide both children and teachers with a safe and secure environment in which they can learn. When we make sure our children are adequately cared for, we provide a means for families to be able to go to work. Working families will be able to frequent the town businesses to spend money and further employ other community members.
Page is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown Town Council.
RANDY WIETMAN (R): For many in our community, this pandemic has created unprecedented levels of financial hardship, anxiety about the threats to personal and public health, mental health issues, and an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty about the future.
What our Town needs now, more than ever, is sound leadership. There is no substitute for that. I have always held positions of leadership, whether in the US Navy, academia, or in manufacturing. I know why it is so important to make decisions that are thoughtful and timely. Ultimately, residents deserve a level of comfort that comes from knowing that we do, indeed, have a way forward and that it is derived from a rational and informed process.
Review the backgrounds, training, and experience of all candidates, and vote for those who have demonstrated consistent leadership throughout their careers. Now is not the time for empty affirmations. Now is the time to elect those who have already proven themselves as leaders in this community. [W]e need bold leaders [...] to take the helm and chart a safe, productive and decisive course!
Wietman is a challenger to the field, seeking first time election to the North Kingstown Town Council.
The following answers from Exeter Town Council candidates appear below in alphabetical order. Candidates were asked to keep their responses to 175 words or less. In the interest of fairness, any responses that exceeded 175 words were edited down to meet the limit.
MANNY ANDREWS (D): Town employees continue to work tirelessly during this pandemic under difficult town hall conditions. Council meetings can’t be safely held so the public cannot attend meetings. Renovations to town hall should be considered. We either need to look into that or develop plans to hold town business at a location large enough to accommodate town employees and the public safely.
If re-elected I will establish a task force of business owners to discuss ways to improve what the town can do to help them going forward. We should look at all current ordinances affecting businesses to see if they need to be updated. We may need to relax some requirements to help these businesses survive.
The State Police were asked to perform tasks such as stopping vehicles entering Rhode Island, straining their resources even further. While the timing for an Exeter Police Department may not be right, we should re-consider entering into a contract with the State Police to provide dedicated coverage in Exeter. This is an affordable option that has been rejected in the past.
Andrews is an incumbent on the Exeter Town Council seeking reelection.
ROBERT “MIKE” CONN (D): (Conn declined to provide an answer for this article.)
Conn is an incumbent on the Exeter Town Council seeking reelection.
OLIVIA DEFRANCESCO (D): The most pressing issues that Exeter is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic are the same issues facing every town in Rhode Island. The health and well-being of our residents, keeping children safe in schools, unemployment, businesses struggling to stay afloat, getting residents realtime updates on where they can find local services/resources and how they can receive them, protocols pertaining to mask wearing and social distancing measures that are in effect, openings and closing of important community buildings, etc. I believe we need to work together to find our way through this crisis. We need to be flexible in this time of shifting priorities. I will work with the School Committee, Department of Social Services, the Town Sergeant, and all agencies that can help our residents during this particularly challenging time.
DeFrancesco is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the Exeter Town Council.
FRANK DIGREGORIO (I): Like most other towns the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to social distancing has negatively affected the town staff and officials to conduct normal business functions. It has also affected the normal conduct of council and board meetings necessitated to be held by Zoom.
The COVID-19 pandemic has especially placed a strain on Planning & Zoning Boards that find it difficult to conduct their meetings on Zoom. This dilemma has been further exacerbated due to the resignation of our Planning, Zoning & Building Inspector Clerk and most recently the resignation of our Town Planner.
Also, the social distancing has affected our life safety concerns. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been minimized thanks to the efforts of our entire town staff and officials, and especially our first line responders, Emergency Management Director and Social Services Director.
If re-elected I will continue to support our town staff and officers so that they can continue to provide the residents of Exeter with the dedication and competence that they have shown during this pandemic.
DiGregorio is an incumbent on the Exeter Town Council seeking reelection.
CAL ELLIS (D): For Exeter residents, the greatest challenges are the loss of personal incomes, loss of jobs, and parental concerns about their children’s ongoing education, given restrictive instructional settings. Town Council response is limited, as emergency declarations have provided requirements for our response to the COVID pandemic. And, as our schools are part of the regional district, the regional School Committee approves policies affecting matters relating to education. If re-elected, I will continue to support the efforts of our Emergency Management Director, who has provided the Council and Town employees with ways to measures required to comply with the health and safety of both residents and staff. The recent resumption of regular business hours for our Town Hall, library and animal shelter with in-person public accessibility appears to be proceeding without incident. Those operations must be monitored closely to assure minimal risks. But without question, the impact of a yet to be approved State budget, if anticipated aid is reduced significantly, may require local spending modifications.
Ellis is an incumbent on the Exeter Town Council and is seeking reelection.
MICHAEL LEFEBVRE (R): We see two pressing issues brought about by our COVID-reactions, affecting us. First, many Exeter businesses are not allowed to operate fully, causing these companies major hardship. The ripple effect from this will hurt the companies, the employees, their families, and our community. We need to release our marketplace and allow them to fully function. Our second concern is how our schools haven’t returned to normal operation. Our children need to return to schools focused on learning instead of the virus. We can only encourage state officials and school administrators to push for normalcy.
Lefebvre is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the Exeter Town Council.
FRANK MAHER (R): The most pressing issues facing Exeter because of COVID is the lack of transparency of government by the people, for the people. Elected officials are stewards of the people's tax dollars and also responsible for efficient operations of the town. Despite any Executive order allowed by the State to circumvent certain procedures, any and all efforts need to be made to ensure that concerns of residents are heard. Zoom meetings are not efficient, not easily user friendly. As an elected official, I believe all officials should meet in person together with facemasks if necessary and allow for residents to join with social distancing guidelines. Very few monthly meetings have more than a small number of residents in attendance. If a controversial meeting takes place with a large crowd, then other alternatives can be made available.
Maher is a former member of the Exeter Town Council seeking election.
RAYMOND MORRISSEY (I): [T]he biggest pressing issue that affects the town of Exeter is inconvenience versus safety.
These days are not business as usual as we wear face masks, use hand sanitizer and keep a distance from one another in public. We are asked to eat outside at the local restaurants [...] and other restrictions put out by the state of Rhode Island. Our town [...] meetings are now on Zoom and the people have a hard time trying to stay informed. [...].
Wearing masks or keeping distances are hopefully temporary. Travel restrictions are now in place in [...] as [neighboring] states see high numbers on COVID-19 cases in RI increase. We can help reduce these high numbers by adopting good safety habits. [...].
[If elected], I would utilize the Exeter Social Services Dept. to work with community groups [...] to make sure our citizens are taken care of. Perhaps start a town social media page to keep people informed about what is happening in our town, other than local news outlets. The town could install an electronic sign [...] to post information.
Morrissey is a former member of the Exeter Town Council seeking election.
DAN PATTERSON (R): [T]he most pressing issues are:
- The general assembly not meeting and voting on a state budget for [FY21]. This has affected not only Exeter, but also every city and town in the state. No one is receiving any money for the car tax phase out resulting in a postponement of sending out the tax bills for motor vehicles. If we send out bills based on last year’s figures and the money doesn’t come through, we’ll have to send out a supplemental bill. [...]
- Four members of the current council voting to do away with the Financial Town Meeting this year. It was possible to do an outdoor meeting as [other towns] did it with great success. Mr. Ellis went as far as saying we had nowhere to hold a meeting which was a slap in the face to the taxpayers of Exeter. It is the citizens’ money and they have a right to vote on how their money is spent. If reelected and I have a majority on the council, there will be a FTM.
Patterson is an incumbent on the Exeter Town Council seeking reelection.
ANDREW PATTY (I): The most pressing issue affecting Exeter brought about by the COVID-19 Pandemic is the importance of striking a balance between the real threat to public safety from the virus and the equally dangerous threat to society from overregulation. Although COVID-19 is a real and present danger; it is disproportionately dangerous to a specific demographic. As of 9/16/20 77.5% of Rhode Island’s COVID fatalities have occurred in long term care, or assisted living facilities (RI DOH COVID-19 Data Tracker). This demonstrates the need for increased protections and support to these communities. It is also important to recognize that there has been significant impact to our society due to the endless state of “Emergency” that RI has been operating under since March. Small businesses have been shuttered, many never to re-open, churches and schools have been closed and allowed to open with unrealistic limits. Social gatherings have become subject to government regulation. Residents of Exeter should be able to run their lives and operate their businesses safely but in a manner that is feasible.
Patty is a newcomer to the field, seeking first time election to the Exeter Town Council.